AUG. 22 is not only the day that the great and influential French composer Claude Debussy was born, 151 years ago, in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Now, it is also the day that Google, that influential American tech titan, moved one step closer to cinema.
Today, to celebrate Debussy’s birth, Google features on its home page a moonlit animation poetically set to the composer’s “Clair de Lune,” his well-known third movement from Suite bergamasque (which Debussy finally published in 1905 — 15 years after he first began working on it while still in his 20s; he would die at just 55).
The home page has featured narrative animations before, of course, but today’s exceptional production notably inches Team Google Doodle ever closer to “short film.” Google has made art since the ‘90s; now it is growing ever defter at multimedia beauty, with its most elegant “short subject” yet.
“Clair de Lune” has long beguiled filmmakers, so it’s entirely apt that Google finds inspiration in the great work by Debussy, that so-called musical Impressionist, that so-dubbed “hedonist of sound.”
Debussy, like fellow French composer Faure, himself found inspiration in a countryman, Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, and his 1869 collection “Fetes galantes.” The poet even seems to beckon musicians with the lyric: “Their song blends with the light of the moon.”
In his “Clair de Lune,” Verlaine writes, too, of what can be translated as tall, slender “fountains sobbing in ecstasy.” Google’s rain-swept “Clair de Lune” Doodle fittingly depicts what appear to be the launched geysers of ecstatic fountains.
And where else have we seen such fountain spray in film, set to “Clair de Lune”? Ah, yes: In Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s” heist films — most notably when Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and the rest of George Clooney’s thick-as-thieves gang wordlessly celebrate in front of the aquatic reverie of the Bellagio hotel’s balletic fountain.
It’s also a swell cinematic touch for the Seine-set Doodle to include the gradual crawl of a lighted boat. Whether an intentional nod or no by Google, “Clair de Lune” was memorably used in Fellini’s 1983 film “And the Ship Sails On” — as mourning friends board a luxury liner (and — yes, yes — a lovable journalist invokes comics).
“Clair de Lune” has been notably employed in dozens of films, including “Frankie and Johnny,” and George Stevens’s ‘50s classic “Giant” (with its big-as-Texas cars), and even “Twilight” (with its smaller Volvo of the Pacific Northwest). There is just something about Debussy’s work that inspires images of transport: “Clair de Lune” even figures beautifully in Wes Anderson’s train-cherishing “The Darjeeling Limited.”
And as much as Verlaine had “triumphant love” on his mind, “Clair de Lune” seems to inspire thoughts of passionate red — even the crimson balloon in the recent short film “Hullabaloo(n),” which opens to the strains of Debussy.
So when today’s Doodle ends with a shared red umbrella above the male and female boaters, we can’t help but think of the red umbrella in this summer’s sweet Pixar short film, “The Blue Umbrella” (which screened before “Monsters University”) and realize again: Google is moving ever closer to cinema.
How soon till the Mountain View campus begins creating content that screens at theaters — and one day puts itself in contention, naturally, for an animated Oscar?